How to Talk about Reproductive Rights
Feb 21, 2018
In her lengthy career in broadcasting, Pat Mitchell says that two topics were never reported on because of their sheer divisiveness: abortion and peace in the Middle East. Recounting that anecdote at a panel on reproductive health she moderated at Spotlight Health 2017, the veteran media executive, formerly of PBS and CNN (among others), asked her fellow panelists how they approach the touchy subject of reproductive rights, and whether they’re hopeful we will be able to find common ground.
For Vera Papisova, Teen Vogue’s first wellness editor, the top priority is making sure young people have accurate, unbiased information.
“Everybody deserves to have information before they have to use it,” says Papisova, who writes about abortion, masturbation, and gender identity, among other once-taboo subjects. “The more that you know about your body, the more accepting and kind you are to your body, the better choices you'll make. I don't care if people think abortion is not for them. It’s not about trying to change people's minds; it’s more about empowering people to be able to believe what's right for them, and that's impossible unless you have information.”
Papisova goes on to say that understanding oneself, one’s body, and one’s identity is the beginning of understanding and accepting others for who they are.
Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation and a proponent of comprehensive sex education for young people, says that while there are real threats against women’s reproductive health at this time, “I believe more people in this country in their hearts and minds respect women’s bodily autonomy, and that's going to win out.”
Younger encouraged people who care about these issues to work on policy at the local and state level, either running for office themselves or supporting candidates, for example school board members, who believe in sex education.
But Willie Parker, an ob/gyn who’s dedicated himself to providing abortions to low-income women in the Deep South, notes that while over 60 percent of the population may agree with the legality of abortion, “how are they voting?” he asks.
Parker, a fervent Christian, became a reproductive rights advocate and abortion provider after listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop Sermon on a cassette tape early in his career. King’s depiction of what made the Good Samaritan good — considering what would happen to the roadside victim if he didn’t stop and help rather than what would happen to himself — spurred Parker to help women in need, rather than simply refer them on as he had before, when he was concerned about what other Christians would think of him.
Parker’s experiences have shown him how many disadvantaged women’s identities are determined by other people, particularly in the southeast United States, which has the greatest percentage of laws being passed to restrict abortions. Things like restrictions on using public funds for abortions, and even requiring physicians to tell women having an abortion will increase their chances of breast cancer (which is not true), force women to continue unwanted pregnancies.
Parker suggests that instead of seeking common ground, perhaps honest disagreement will lead to more progress (a notion he credited to Mahatma Gandhi). Because people will always have strong personal opinions about abortion, policies about reproductive health should account for everybody’s position, but not impede any woman from exercising her rights (or not). As such, “progress means sound evidence-based policies don't infantilize women in their agency,” says Parker.
In this video clip, an audience member asks Parker how he would approach a conversation with a person who believes a fetus is a person.
The full session can be viewed here.
Written by Catherine Lutz, guest blogger